How to Raise a Happy, Cooperative Child

Parenting Strategies for All Ages

To Test or Not to Test

There are strong reasons why testing cannot be the answer.

It is true. No child should be left behind. All children should succeed in school. They will have better lives. But how do you accomplish this feat? There have been many different approaches over the years. The most recent strategy has been to administer standardized tests to kids on a regular basis. These tests are employed to motivate kids to perform better in school, and to determine whether or not a child can move forward to the next grade. In addition to the children’s performance, the exams are also being used to judge how well the teachers and principals are educating our children. The size of a school's budget and whether or not the professionals keep their jobs is often linked to the children’s test scores. So, everyone is aligned in putting supreme pressure on kids, and it is heavy for their little shoulders.

The question remains: What is the value of these tests? Are they pushing kids and the educational system to do a better job? Are kids achieving more? The general consensus is that the testing is not working.

There are strong reasons why testing cannot be the answer. Children feel stressed by the constant drilling for the exams, and stress tends to a decrease in children’s level of performance. If kids do not do well on the exams and are left back, they feel crushed and have a harder time achieving. Furthermore, testing does not take into account that a child may be struggling with problems that are interfering with his ability to learn, and he or she needs help. In essence, the testing creates a stressful atmosphere in which children have a hard time performing and receive little help in overcoming any stumbling blocks. There is a growing movement to stop using testing as the way to "ensure" our children’s success. Many educators believe that an approach that supports kids' ability to learn, works better. Here are some steps that schools can take to promote a positive learning environment that will lead students to success:

-Make the learning experience exciting. The yearly curriculum in schools has become so heavily focused on the tests, that teachers have little time or energy to be creative. The primary goal of education should be to foster a love of learning and develop independent, creative thinkers. A thought provoking, stimulating program keeps kids involved and motivated.

-Build children's self-esteem. The number one ingredient to achieving success is self-confidence. Schools should focus on promoting positive communication with kids that convey that they are good and capable. There should be projects and activities that give children the feeling that they are valuable.

-Analyze a child’s problems. When a child is not doing well in school, the child needs support. To begin with, the child's hearing and vision should be tested. If such a difficulty is discovered, small changes, such as moving a child closer to the teacher, can make a huge difference.

-Determine if the child has a learning problem. There are many forms of learning disabilities that interfere in a child's learning process. Does the child have a receptive language problem? Does he or she have an attention issue? Once identified and treated, these issues can be overcome, and the child will be freer to learn.

-Evaluate the child’s home and social life. Often a child who is having a hard time doing his or her work also has family or social problems that are interfering. If a child is being bullied at school, or goes home to a stressful environment, it is difficult for him or her to function at school. He or she may be depressed, anxious or angry, and these emotions can prevent him from doing his work. School counselors should evaluate the child’s situation thoroughly. The family should be involved, and the child or family should be referred to counseling, if needed. With skillful intervention, the child will feel better and function successfully at school.

-Avoid leaving kids back. This is the last thing children need. Their self-esteem plummets, they feel ashamed, angry at adults, and less inclined to try. The resulting emotional and social problems make it almost impossible for children to get back on track. Providing them with support to stay in their grade, is a much better solution.

-State and federal funding for education should be increased. When a child goes to school we should think about the "whole child's" needs, not just her academic growth. Every school should have a team of professionals available who support the children's emotional and social development. Teachers and other staff members should have ongoing training to learn how to identify problems and help children move ahead. With ample resources, schools can give children important life skills and promote their well-being before they go out into the world on their own. Isn’t this the goal we are seeking?

-Encourage children's positive self-esteem. Children succeed best when they feel good about themselves. The way to do this in school is to communicate positively with children and give them patient guidance when they need it.

-Teachers are frequently overloaded by the number of children in their classes and the amount of work that they must accomplish. A child may be struggling with learning disabilities or family problems and need help. Though there are some services offered, the quality can vary substantially. The testing therefore, creates a stressful atmosphere in which children have a hard time performing and receive little help in overcoming any stumbling blocks.

 

 

Meri Wallace, LCSW, is a parenting expert and child and family therapist.

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